No 1: An die Nacht Heilige Nacht, heilige Nacht!
No 2: Ich wollt' ein Sträusslein binden
No 3: Säusle, liebe Myrthe!
No 4: Als mir dein Lied erklang! Dein Lied erklang, ich habe es gehört
No 5: Amor An dem Feuer saß das Kind
No 6: Lied der Frauen Wenn es stürmt auf den Wogen
Clemens Brentano (1778–1842) was a notable figure in the German Romantic movement, an associate among others of Wieland, Herder, Goethe and Schlegel. Restless and unconventional by nature, he spent some years wandering the countryside with his guitar on his back like a medieval minstrel. His close and lifelong friendship with Achim von Arnim, who married his sister Bettina, provided some stability, and created the work for which they are both best known, the collection of German folk poetry known as Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Strauss himself set three poems from that collection, including Hat gesagt—bleibt’s nicht dabei, but no doubt recognizing that Gustav Mahler had already achieved all that was possible in this field, he turned in 1918 to six of Brentano’s original poems. Inspired by their highly charged imagery, he produced not only some of his most virtuoso vocal writing, but a series of intricately woven piano accompaniments that clearly owe their richness and fluency to his many years of writing for the opera orchestra.
Although Strauss is known to have had Elisabeth Schumann in mind for the Brentano-Lieder, she only performed the entire cycle on one occasion, in 1922. This is not surprising, since whereas the four central songs seem tailor-made for her clear, light soprano, in the first and last songs Strauss appears to have been thinking of a completely different cast of voice. In particular Lied der Frauen with its stormy texture and epic scale—at sixteen pages it is twice as long as any of the other songs—suggests a voice of far greater heft and stamina than is usually found among coloratura sopranos, and can easily lead to balance problems in the orchestral version. On the other hand, as Strauss’s biographer Norman del Mar points out, it is worth remembering that Strauss’s first Marschallin was also his first Zerbinetta.
A final background detail—the years to 1918 were also those in which Strauss became increasingly embattled with his publishers Bote & Bock, having unwisely signed an agreement in 1906 to give them his next set of songs. Given the high quality of the Brentano-Lieder it is not surprising that he chose to keep them in his bottom drawer, offering instead the satirical cycle Krämerspiegel and—when this was rejected—the Ophelia-Lieder.
from notes by Roger Vignoles © 2011